2008: The year in movies, comedian comedy edition

This year, Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival has expanded to include a two-day Just Comedy industry confab to discuss the state of comedy and network and do all of those things that someone interested in taking their comedy career to the next step should be doing.

Over the next two days (July 17-18), there will be keynote addresses, panels, workshops, pitch meetings, the customary Andy Kindler State of the Industry speech, celebrity discussions and a special fete for Judd Apatow, since the mainstream median and the comedy business clearly have anointed him as the guy who knows how to sell big-screen movies to the masses these days. Which makes it that much more worth noting, or, rather, looking back on the year so far in movies showcasing comedians. By the numbers. Because that’s how these industry types roll the dice, so to speak. The figures come courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

The highest-grossing live-action comedy film of 2008 so far is…did you guess it yet? Get Smart. Oh, you probably missed it by that much, didn’t you? $112.6 million and still counting. Steve Carell, take a bow. Though it’s only the 11th most popular movie at the box office this year overall, and we still have some big flicks on the way.

Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess With The Zohan didn’t exactly make Hollywood yearn for more Israeli spy hairdressing heroes, although his movie has earned $97 million.

Apatow had a hand in the next comedy on our list, with a producer credit on Forgetting Sarah Marshall (breakout supporting star Russell Brand is here in Montreal), and with just under $63 million, that’s good enough to put it a slot above Baby Mama, ($60 million) the movie that would prove that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler can make and sell a female buddy comedy.

Martin Lawrence? Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins earned $42 million, but that looks like a lot of money to Will Ferrell and Mike Myers, who saw their big promotional efforts in Semi-Pro ($33 million) and The Love Guru ($31 million), respectively, go for naught. Myers even took his Guru to the #1 TV show in America, American Idol, and still couldn’t get anyone to pay to see his epic fail of a film. Myers would wish that his stinker had taken a cue from the much more relatively successful film, What Happens in Vegas, which earned $79 million despite horrid reviews and Ashton Kutcher in the lead role. As for Ferrell, hopefully all of those recycled TV ads he did during the NBA playoffs helped move some DVDs, at least. And certainly it means everyone is wondering how his upcoming comedy, Step Brothers, with John C. Reilly will fare next weekend…funny? Or die? In between those two disappointments was Drillbit Taylor, Apatow’s other early 2008 comedy ($32.8 millon) that had the misfortune of marketing Owen Wilson to an audience that knew he wasn’t exactly spreading good cheer at the time.

Do we count Run Fat Boy Run? Best not to.

But we do have to acknowledge that $5 million is not a good opening weekend for an Eddie Murphy multiple-role comedy in Meet Dave. It’s not a complete failure, as some reviewers have suggested it as good family fare. So chalk it up to, what then? Bad timing? A ill-conceived pitch? Either way, it still already ranks as a more popular film than Murphy’s epic epic fail, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, which only earned $4.4 million in its here-and-gone release in 2002.

And Larry the Cable Guy better stick to animated films for the time being. His Witless Protection earned $4.1 million and sent anyone who saw the movie into, well, witless protection. It couldn’t scrape up half the money that his woeful Delta Farce earned, which in turn was only half the movie at the box office that Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector was.

While Ferrell and Adam McKay also get lauded along with their Funny or Die cohort Apatow, it would appear that their golden touch could not help The Foot Fist Way. They pushed it into theaters and promoted it heavily via appearances on Conan and Funny or Die (and even MySpace messages from Patton Oswalt). All of that has helped bring it $227,458 in box-office receipts.

So, industry, what did we learn from all of this? Anything? Nothing? Maybe I’ll be able to tell you more in two days.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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One thought on “2008: The year in movies, comedian comedy edition

  1. Was just thinking about this today, actually, and wondering if any of the coming summer comedy releases can turn it around. What would it be? Hamlet 2? Ghost Town? Step Brothers? An awesome line up of stars in those films; but the trailers do not look promising. At all.
    Will be curious to hear more about the buzz from up there on this.

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